Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Free For All

Not sure how long it's been live. But we just noticed that the Collins campaign store isn't a store at all: They're giving t-shirts, mouse pads, lapel pins, bumper stickers and balloons away for free.

No shipping charges, no handling fees--nada. All Collins fans have to do is key in their street and e-mail addresses.

It's an interesting (unprecedented?) choice, and it highlights three things.

1. Sen. Collins' team understands that theirs is not a typical campaign: The strategy is to run a race almost completely devoid of substance--to run away from a discussion of the big issues (and Collins' positions on them) whenever possible.

Instead, they're focusing on personal qualities. And they'll try to use the junior senator's popularity as a self-reinforcing case for re-election. (People like Susan Collins, therefore she must be doing a good job.)

A couple of sources I talked to had questions about the tactical wisdom of giving away t-shirts and mouse pads--both felt it was an inefficient use of campaign resources. But I'm not so sure.

When your re-election argument turns on a fact-free, emotional appeal, you need to make sure that the appeal is reinforced as often as possible--even if doing that costs dearly.

2. Sen. Collins team grasps the fact that they've got more money than they'll ever need.

TV time is cheap in Maine. And they know that the junior senator's billionaire allies and corporate friends will take care of the heavy lifting during the campaign.

So they've got cash to burn.

3. The junior senator's team appreciates that while her support is wide, it's exceedingly thin: Collins may be up in the polls, but she faces a serious enthusiasm deficit. And her lead is built on a big advantage with low-information voters.

So giving away Collins t-shirts is probably the only way to get them on the backs of more than a few handfuls of Mainers.

Does that approach risk making Collins appear desperate to be liked? Does it invite the observation that more than three-quarters of each complimentary t-shirt was paid for by out of state donors, and that a full quarter was funded by business PACs?

Perhaps. But in this issue environment, the Collins camp would rather be discussing these issues (or card check, coat check, Czech food, etc.) than talking about the concerns of Maine voters.

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